Readers do not need to know the details of past sorrows and losses to see the devastation wracked in the present.
“What does that tell you about our so-called saint? Pauline was, of course, the warped result of all that twisted her mother. She was what came next, beyond the end of things. She was the residue of what occurred when some of our grief-mad people trampled their children. Yes, Leopolda was the hope and she was the poison. And the history of the Puyats is the history of the end of things. It is bound up in despair and the red beasts’ lust for self-slaughter, an act the chimookomanag call suicide, which our people rarely practiced until now.”
And Agnes’ bookishness is something to which many readers will immediately and heartfully relate.
“In the convent, she had not been permitted to read beyond her daily prayers and the lives of the saints. Now, with a town library full of volumes she’d never touched she became a reader. A wolfish, selfish, maddened hungry reader….” And, later in the story: “Out of the stacks of books, they made separate rooms. They stacked the books two by two, then crosswise, like bricks, into a wall.”
The importance of some cultural elements likely did not resonate with me in the same way on first reading, but I do remember being struck by the allegiances and divergences on matters of faith, between native spirituality and organized religion.
“Agnes’s struggle with the Ojibwe language, the influence of it, had an effect on her prayers. For she preferred the Ojibwe word for praying, anama’ay, with its sense of a great motion upward. She began to address the trinity as four and to include the spirit of each direction – those who sat at the four corners of the earth.”
It must have been at the heart of my love of this story, but I had forgotten about the love story in The Last Report. So it was an unexpected delight for me, as it was for the participants. This turned a chunky familiar novel into a pageturner for me once again.
“If we are cut off from God by sinning…why do I feel so close to God when I touch you in this darkness, in this cloud?”
Yes, there is still darkness in this story. And, yes, there are still big questions lurking.
“’Time is a fish,’ said Nanapush slowly, ‘and all of us are living on the rib of its fin.’”
However, as an entrance-way into Erdrich’s fiction, I recommend perching on the rib of this story.